Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Review of 'Maus I: My Father Bleeds History' by Art Spiegelman

"Maus is the story of Vladek Spiegelman, a Jewish survivor of Hitler's Europe, and his son, a cartoonist who tries to come to terms with his father, his father's terrifying story, and History itself.  Its form, the cartoon (the Nazis are cats, the Jews mice), succeeds perfectly in shocking us out of any lingering sense of familiarity with the events described, approaching, as it does, the unspeakable through the diminutive.  It is, as the New York Times Book Review has commented, 'a remarkable feat of documentary detail and novelistic vividness... an unfolding literary event.'

Moving back and forth from Poland to Rego Park, New York, Maus tells two powerful stories: The first is Spiegelman's father's account of how he and his wife survived Hitler's Europe, a harrowing tale filled with countless brushes with death, improbable escapes, and the terror of confinement and betrayal.  The second is the author's tortured relationship with his aging father as they try to lead a normal life of minor arguments and passing visits against a backdrop of history too large to pacify.  At all levels, this is the ultimate survivor's tale-- and that, too, of the children who somehow survive even the survivors.

Part I of Maus takes Spiegelman's parents to the gates of Auschwitz and him to the edge of despair.  Put aside all your preconceptions.  These cats and mice are not Tom and Jerry, but something quite different.  This is a new kind of literature."

I needed to pick a book to read for my Holocaust class, so I picked this one, since I've already read 'Night' by Elie Wiesel.

I had heard many good things from people who read it when they were in middle school and they remembered liking it very much.  So as a high-schooler, I decided to read this graphic novel.

A number of the things mentioned in this graphic novel are things that I've heard before, but what was unique compared to many novels and memoirs written about the Holocaust is that it covers the Jewish ghettos.  Art Spiegelman depicts what his father says about being moved from Poland into the ghettos where eventually, most people were moved to various death and working camps across Europe.  He talks about how his father and his family went into hiding, trying to disappear off the face of the earth.

Another thing that was put into this graphic novel was the relationship between Holocaust parents and their children post-Holocaust.  I am not an expert on parent-child relationships, but it is apparent that something is a little different about these relationships than those of non-Holocaust-parents and their children.  I think this was portrayed quite well in this graphic novel.

The art is great and very effective.  Art Spiegelman drew what his father depicted, but he also drew maps and diagrams to further the reader's understanding of what Vladek Spiegelman was talking about.  It was clearer in a way that other Holocaust stories haven't been or can't be.

Those of us who were never a direct part of the Holocaust will never truly understand just what happened.  We will never feel the emotional, physical, and mental strains that Holocaust survivors felt.  But I think 'Maus' gave us just a hint of this pain through the graphic artwork, Vladek's words, the story of one of the most terrible ways to break the human body, spirit, and mind.

I give 'Maus I: My Father Bleeds History':
Thanks for Reading!  The Sequel will be posted in a couple of days.


Monday, June 25, 2012

A Review of 'Selected Shorts: Family Matters' by Symphony Space (Audio Book)

"Recorded life at the Peter Norton Symphony Space in New York City and at venues across the United States, these audio anthologies feature short stories from the Selected Shorts program that airs nationwide.  More than 300,000 listeners tune in to this offering weekly to hear some of their favorite tales read aloud by an assortment of distinguished actors."

I love this whole digital thing my library is doing.  I can get digital books and audio books instantly and for free with my library card.  It's the best invention ever.

This isn't your average audio book.  i'm not even certain that this was a book to begin with.  But I'm counting this, because several short stories are being told.  This book was told over the radio at one point.

Each of these stories relates to family in some way, shape or form.  I loved the short story format because it gives the brain a bit of a break from processing the same thing for too long.  I think that it helps keep content light as well.  There isn't enough time to really get into a story.  I think the longest story on this audio book was forty-five minutes to an hour.  Because these stories are so light, a vast majority of the stories are quite hilarious!  I tried to listen to some before going to bed each night, but I don't think it really helped me go to sleep because most of the time, I was laughing too hard!

I'm not Catholic, but I think part of what made these stories so funny was the Catholic guilt!  Once of the funniest stories (I'm blanking on the title and I can't go back and listen, because I've already 'returned' the audio book) was about a boy who was quite young and had a horrible aunt (or was it grandmother?) whom at one point he wanted to kill, but she knew he was planning to do this, so when he was old enough to go into the church and make his first confession, she was right there reminding him of all the bad things he'd done up until that point in his life and telling he to remember to tell the priest everything.  The little boy was really confused about how confession was supposed to work!  It also helped that the narrators knew how to read stories well, so they had the right tone when reading through hilarious parts.  I imagined them saying everything with a serious face, which made everything funnier in my head.

There were so many crazy relatives involved in the stories that said the strangest and most unexpected things and put the main characters in the most awkward of positions that I couldn't help but laugh!

Another nice thing about this audio book is that because it is about family, it is pretty

'Selected Shorts: Family Matters' is a series of short stories that, no matter what kind of background you have, will make you laugh and realize that all of our families are just a little crazy somewhere on that family tree.

I give 'Selected Shorts: Family Matters':
Thanks for reading!


Friday, June 22, 2012

Movie Time! 'Across the Universe'

"An American girl (Evan Rachel Wood) and a British lad (Jim Sturgess) fall in love amid the social and political upheaval of the 1960s in this movie musical from director Julie Taymor that features classic Beatles songs and a mix of live action and animation.  Or an excursion to America, Liverpool dock worker Jude (Sturgess) falls for Lucy (Wood).  But when Lucy's brother (Joe Anderson) is drafted, Jude and Lucy take a stand as anti-war activists."

The soundtrack to the Beatles fanatic's life!

I'm such a fan of this movie.  Where do I start?

I loved that the characters were given names from some of the Beatles' songs ("Hey Jude," "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," "Sexy Sadie," "Dear Prudence," etc.).  It was a really neat touch.

The music.  It's my belief that even if you're a Beatles purist and you can't appreciate anything but the original version of the various songs, you'll find at least one song in this movie where you can appreciate if not prefer the cover to the original.  The singing was phenomenal-- and not all of the actors had sung in this kind of setting before.  I think Evan Rachel Wood and Jim Sturgess were in bands or some kind of musical group before, but as far as having sung in big production musical or movie musicals, there was little to no experience.

The story.  I thought it was an interesting way to pull the songs together and relate them to one another.  Towards the middle, when the sixties were being represented, things became quite garbled and while most viewers will probably think, "What the...?" (I was among those viewers) everything is so visually pleasing that even if the plot doesn't make a lot of sense, this hot mess on screen beyond the veil of drug use is really, really beautiful.  And once more, the songs are good.

This movie is good for those who like musicals, are any level of a Beatles enthusiast, and enjoy being visually pleased.  A lot of effort was put into the making of this movie and in many ways, I think it really pulled through.

Friday Memes!

Welcome to Friday!  Today, I will answer questions posed by Parajunkee, Melissa @ i swim for oceans, Ginger @ GReads, and Jennifer @ Crazy-for-Books.  Feel free to answer these questions yourself either below in the comments or on your own website by joining the memes via the linked websites!

If you could "unread" a book, which one would it be?  Is it because you want to start over and experience it again for the first time or is it because it was THAT bad?

This one is rather difficult... my go-to answer is Harry Potter, because I'd love to experience reading them for the first time and sweating out what was going to happen to Harry.  But I want to throw out a different title for you, because I predict that a number of bloggers will put forth this answer as well.  I think I'd want to  unread "Life As We Knew It" by Susan Beth Pfeffer.  It's one of my very favorite books and I would love to read it again for the first time.  It's suspenseful and it makes me nervous for the characters.  

Question: Do you prefer real books or those on your e-Reader?  Why?

I don't have an e-Reader that I can hold really... my library does this thing where I can instantly check out books electronically (audio books too) and then read or listen to them on my computer, which is very neat.  I love "real" books because I like the feeling of turning pages and holding something in my hands-- feeling the weight of something there.  As for e-Reader books, I like the convenience of not having to carry fifty pounds of books everywhere I go.  Just the ten pounds, give or take, that makes up my laptop.  So, I guess I'm going with the very neutral answer of "both."  

Authors Are Our Celebrities: Have you even contacted an author you admired?  How did that experience go?  If not, which author would love to have a chat with?

I attempted to contact John Green at one point in time so that I could give a shot at interviewing people for this blog.  But I think there were a couple of problems...

1. I did this when I wasn't a "big name" blogger.  I'm still not a big name blogger when compared to bloggers like Parajunkee.  
2. I tried to contact a pretty well-known author who is busy with things like writing and co-running the Vlogbrothers channel on YouTube.  These are two very big undertakings on his part.  
3. I'm not so sure the email I found for him worked... I couldn't view the website very well either, so that makes me think that he's changed his email since then and has decided to keep it private (totally understandable).

If I could, I would love to talk to him in person at a Nerdfighter convention of some sort.  I would also like to talk to authors like Susan Beth Pfeffer (since she's a blogger, this might be easier) and J.K. Rowling (this will be much more difficult than contacting John Green).

Blogging Question: Do you immediately write a review upon finishing a book or do you wait and write multiple reviews at once?

I try to write reviews for books I have finished immediately after finishing the book and then scheduling it, but lately, things haven't worked out this way.  I have a number of books ready to review in my drafts folder, but some of these books either haven't been finished yet or I haven't worked up the motivation to write them yet.  Seeing as I don't have to work today, I think that I will devote my early afternoon to writing a few and getting them scheduled for the next couple of weeks.  Also to reading.  I haven't read anything almost all week long... I hate that.

Feel free to leave your web address below and I will try my best to come by and visit your blog today!  

Thanks for reading!


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Review of 'Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America' by Elizabeth Wurtzel

"A harrowing story of breakdowns, suicide attempts, drug therapy, and an eventual journey back to living, this poignant and often hilarious book gives voice to the high incidence of depression among America's youth.  A collective cry for help from a generation who have come of age entrenched in the culture of divorce, economic instability, and AIDS, here is the intensely personal story of a young girl full of promise, whose mood swings have risen and fallen like the lines of a sad ballad."

The version of this book that I own is the top cover (which is the movie version), but I prefer the bottom one.

I remember seeing this book in Barnes and Noble maybe a year ago, but I didn't want to get it because I hadn't read it.  But months ago, I intended to do a book report for psychology and this was one of the books on the list that I could read, so I got it on Amazon for $0.01, which was such an excellent deal, I couldn't resist!  

When I began reading, I was hooked.  I don't know what's so attractive about misery, but that's partially what drew me in.  This is a book containing Elizabeth's thoughts as she sank lower and lower into depression, nearly hitting rock bottom.  

The writing itself was exhausting.  I think that it was meant to mirror how depression wears you down and makes you feel like you can't do anything.  It took me several months to finish this book because it was so exhausting and because I did't want to go back and feel this exhaustion and despair.  But like Elizabeth,  I got through it and came out okay in the end.

While I think that part of her writing style was meant to prove a point, the book took on almost a textbook style (for lack of a better phrase) because it was sort of going through the history of treating clinical depression (because Elizabeth has embodied this history), with the book ending in the creation of Prozac and her gradual recovery from this debilitating way of being.  Looking at just her writing style, it is very easy to read.  Her syntax isn't terribly complicated, which I think is a good balance because she uses many of the medical names for the drugs she took (we know how complicated those can be... it's like speaking a different language).  Elizabeth Wurtzel has a way of getting her point across and in a book like this, where you're trying to prove something, this is very, very important.

'Prozac Nation' was very informative about each aspect of clinical depression.  The symptoms; the various treatments; what it is, exactly.  Since I was attempting to do a psychology project, this was perfect because it had everything I could possibly need in order to write a great paper.  But because the book was so difficult to get through, this never happened.  Just as many things in Elizabeth's life never happened because she just couldn't.  There's this nearly un-explainable force that drives her to such a state that even the simplest things, like waking up and getting out of bed (some of you late-sleepers are laughing at me, but this is completely different from waking up on the weekend without an alarm clock).

Overall, this book is very informative, but true to Depression itself, it's very exhausting and not a book that one will probably pick up for light summer reading.

I give 'Prozac Nation':
I promise that I won't go this long without a review for a long while.  I've just recently had a burst of motivation.  Also!  There'll be some really neat books over the course of this fall-- I'm taking and Irish and Scottish Literature class in college and I just ordered all of the books I'm going to need on Amazon!

Thanks for reading!


Monday, June 18, 2012

College Edition: What's Kind of Freaking Me Out

So, I had my graduation party last Saturday, and my parents gave me three books about getting acclimated to the various parts of college.  One of the books in question is called "How to Survive Your Freshman Year" by hundreds of Students and Some Great Advisors.  As I'm reading this book, there are a few things that are kind of freaking me out when I wasn't freaked out about going to college before.  So I thought that I would make a list out of it!

1. The Amount Of Drinking and Drug Use That Is Mentioned.  I'm not much of a party person.  I would much rather stay in with a small group of people and watch a movie or even go out for dinner.  This whole drinking and party scene is going to be one of the biggest culture shocks for me-- that is, if one really exists on my campus.  I've been lucky enough to have picked friends who aren't interested in drinking or doing drugs and my exposure to this kind of scene is limited to my adventures in France.  And I didn't even take part.  I was too scared to function.

2. The Roommate Nightmare Stories.  I think that I'm very lucky to have a little prior knowledge about my roommate since we've traveled together and we went to school together, but what if there's a third girl in our room?  What if she turns out to be some kind of nightmare child whom we end up babysitting half of the time?  This book contained stories about people who had to have five or six roommates before finally, someone was a good fit.  I don't want to have to go through that.

3. Time Management.  I've always been very terrible at this.  Sure, I get things done and I've managed, thus far, to maintain a Good Student status.  But I've read, many times over, that college is different because there are a few large, very meaningful assignments rather than hundreds of insignificant ones.  So I know that there will be more work that I need to do.  Leaving everything until the last minute is not going to be an option any more.  What am I going to do?

4. Balancing Everything.  Sleeping, socializing, studying... maybe this will come more easily than I think, but the theory that these are all things I will have to maintain, just as I have had to maintain most of my life, is a little scary.  Have you ever played Sims?  It's a little stressful making sure they don't have to pee, aren't hungry, aren't sleep deprived, have enough social interaction... it's exhausting making sure that they have all of these things.  That's what is feels like to be facing this challenge, even if it hasn't posed much of a challenge in the past.  Everything is different now, somehow.

I guess I made this list in the hopes that someone will commiserate or will volunteer advice or kind words to let me know that I'm overreacting (I hope!).

Thanks for reading and for helping!


Saturday, June 2, 2012

A Review of 'Clean' by Amy Lynn Reed

"You're probably wondering how I ended up here.  I'm still wondering the same thing.

Olivia, Kelly, Christopher, Jason, and Eva have one thing in common: They're addicts.  Addicts who have hit rock bottom and been stuck together in rehab to face their problems, face sobriety, and face themselves.  None of them wants to confront the truths about their pasts.  And they certainly don't want to share their darkest secrets and most desperate fears with a room of strangers.  But they'll all have to deal with themselves and one another if that want to learn how to live.  Because when you get that high, there's nowhere to go but down, down, down."

I woke up one morning and since I didn't have to go to school  or anything, I decided to delay my getting out of bed and read. To my pleasant surprise, this was a book that I couldn't put down.  It was like this when I started, but I was always forced to put it down, and at this point in time, I had no reason to.

I liked that this story was told from several points of view in creative ways.  Sometimes Christopher and Kelly would talk about what was going on in their present time, but other times there was a transcript of the group sessions or personal essays from everyone in the group.

This was a really neat story about several recoveries.  I liked seeing what was going on in the character's heads.  While Shirley, the group therapist, was a huge help to the teens in this rehabilitation center, a lot of the healing seemed to be going on in their own minds, which I guess is a huge part of what rehab is.  At least in this place.

The stories were sad and the reactions to these stories by the people who experienced them are painful because most of the time, they didn't mean to do the things they did.  While I couldn't relate to them personally, I was still able to feel for the characters and have sympathy for them and I was hopeful throughout their recovery.

The thing that was frustrating at times was the unwillingness of some of the characters to listen, come clean, and change.  But this is probably part of the recovery process.

This book is good for those who enjoy reading about a struggle and then a glimpse of triumph, this is the book for you.

I give 'Clean':
Thanks for Reading!